Power/Knowledge and Discourse:
Turning the Ethnographie Gaze Around in
Jean Rouch's Chronique d'un été
We ail become livlng spécimens under the spectral light of ethnology, or of anti-
ethnology which is only the pure form of triumphal ethnology, under the sign of
dead différences, and of the résurrection of différences. It is thus extremely
naive to look for ethnology among the Savages or in sortie Third World— it is hère,
everywhere, in the metropolis, among the whites, in a world completely
catalogued and analysed and then artiûcially revived as though real, in a world
of simulation: of the hallucination of truth, of blackmail by the real, of the
murder and historical (hysterical) rétro spection of every symbolic form— a
murder whose first victims were, noblesse oblige, the Savages, but which for a
long time now has been extended to ail Western societies.
— Jean Baudrillard, Simulations
In Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Barnouw chronicles the
évolution of documentary cinéma from its genesis in 1874, through the moments
when non-Action film, because the demand for newsreel footage often outweighed the
technological and circumstantial capabilities, was steadily being "reconstituted"
through a combination of both non-flctional and fictional footage towards the turn of
the century. The "reality" that documentary film purported to reveal gradually
became tainted by the falsification of "truth"— posed or fictional séquences were
methodically injected into the stérile stream of "reality." Fictional scènes were spliced
with actual footage and the Unes between the "real" and the "staged" became blurred.
History, as had been represented by non-Action film, seemed to be invaded by the
domain of fiction, reality became obfuscated by fable, and what was considered to be
the "true nature" 1 of documentary film was irreparably ruptured (pp. 24-25).
Throughout his life, Vertov worked to untangle the representational ambiguity
which séparâtes "truth" from "fiction" in film. His concept of kino-pravda (film truth)
points to a third realm of interprétation outside the opposing concepts of reality and
fiction— that of observation and représentation through the kino-eye (camera-eye):
Not kino-eye for its own sake, but truth through the means and possibilities of
1 Barnow documents the fllming of San Juan Hill in 1898:
"When Albert E. Smith returned to New York from Cuba with his San Juan Hill footage, he was worried: in
spite of the Roosevelt posturing, it looked like a dull uphill walk, in no way fitting the "charge up San Juan
Hill" trumpeted by newspapers. Meanwhile theaters clamored for the Guban material already publieized. So
Vitagraph held off its distribution until Smith and his partner J. Stuart Blackton had shot a talbe-top
"Battle of Santiago Bay" complète with profuse cigarette and cigar smoke, explosions, and cardboard ships
going down in inch-deep water. Gombined with the shots brought from Cuba, it became the hit of the war
coverage. The public apparently did not suspect its true nature (p. 24).
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film-eye, i.e.., kino-pravda.
Not "filming life unawares" for the sake of the "unaware," but in order to show
people wlthout masks, without makeup, to catch them through the eye of the
caméra in a moment when they are not acting, to read their thoughts, laid bare
by the caméra.
Kino-eye as the possibility of making the invisible visible, the unclear clear, the
hidden manifest, the disguised over, the acted nonacted; making falsehood into
Kino-eye as the union of science with newsreel to further the battle for the
communist decoding of the world, as an attempt to show the truth on the
screen— Film-truth (Vertov, p. 41, emphasis mine).
Inasmuch as Vertov attempts to capture film-truth in his work, he was heavily
criticized, and even labeled a Formalist, because his film, Man with the Movie Caméra
(1929), utilizes many of the cinematic contrivances and artificiality that Vertov
himself criticized. A proponent of what would later be coined direct cinéma, 2 Vertov
stages shots, plays technological "games" with the caméra, and even films himself in
Man with the Movie Caméra. The objectivity of the caméra eye thus became a point of
contention within cinematic représentation at this time, as Vertov's film demonstrates
the necessary or unavoidable implication of the nlmmaker and the camera-eye within
every âlmic moment; thus the distinction between the "unaware" and "aware", the
non-staged and staged, the acted and the "natural", the factual and the fictional posed
a threat to the socio-political orientation advocated by Soviet realism in the 1920's
and 1930's. Furthermore, the traditional view of non-fiction film as an informational
discourse which searches for a truth, a séries of facts, about that which we "know" to
be reality was challenged, eventually leading to massive changes in documentary film
and film theory. Vertov's Man with the Movie Caméra suggests that subjectivLty is
necessarily inscribed within every cinematic moment, angle, and frame, ultimately
questioning— and perhaps negating— the possibility of separating that which is "fact"
and "fiction" as prescribed by Western epistemology. 3
Jean Rouch, a French anthropologist-filmmaker, adopts and expands upon the
notion of kino-pravda through what later came to be translated as, à la Vertov, cinéma
vérité. However, cinéma vérité differs from kino-pravda in that instead of attempting
to capture a truth through the non-involvement and purely observational mode of the
filmmaker, cinéma vérité struggles to undermine the logic of truth embedded within
direct cinema's "invisible" gaze by suggesting that "artificial circumstances could
2 Direct cinéma fliids its truth in events visible to the caméra, however the rôle of the artist must be
uninvolved and non-provoking.
3 Philosophers such as Edmund Husserl were at this time working through similar questions, critiquing
Hegels Weifcan.scnauu.ng'philosophy as well as attempting to account for subjectivity within science (See
Phenomenlogy and the Crisis ofPhilosophy). Likewise, in a 19Z7 interview, V. Shklovsky comments on the
state of cinéma in the Soviet Union at that time, noting that the pure séparation of "fiction" from "fact" is
problematic due to the subjectivity etched within every utterance (p. 79).
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bring liidden truth to tlie surface" (Barnouw, p. 255). In many of his ethnograpliic
works, Rouen uses film to analyze spécifie moments or situations in various Afriean
cultures (i.e. Les maîtres fous (1955), a film about Haouka possession rituals and La
circoncision (1949), a film dealing with circumeision rites), while attempting to break
with both anthropological and documentary tradition which virtually prohibits the
ethnographer's and filmmaker's involvement with the "other" aside from so-called
But, when the moment cornes that the observer becomes a simple spectator
among other spectators, when the moment cornes when he speaks and
understands the language suf&ciently to know what is being said and to
respond to it sometimes, he participâtes just like his neighbors. And so it
follows that at each possession dance that I witnessed, the deities came to
greet me as well as my neighbors and spoke at length to me...
The pénétration of more circumspect domains, like the magician's milieu,
posed other problems. After a slow and graduai approach, contact could be
established (with the aid of the intervention of the deities in the course of a
possession dance). Slowly, I entered the game, but as soon as certain doors
opened before me, they would close behind me, prohibiting ail retreats and
cutting ail ties with the outside. The observer was completely overwhelmed by
what he observed. Was this still a matter of observation? (Rouch 1960, pp.
In his films, one can see how Rouch methodically chips away at the barrier separating
the "self and "other" prescribed by both anthropological discourse and traditional
non-Action cinematic practices. His films attempt to deconstruct the traditional
notion of "non-intervention" with respect to anthropological observation and the gaze
of the camera-eye. 4 Through his innovative use of film technology (ie. synchronous
sound) and technique (ie. the lack of obtrusive voice-overs), Rouch works with the
médium allowing the caméra to penetrate traditional cinematic boundaries,
translating "film-sight", "film-hearing", "film-movement", and "ûlm-editing" into a type
of "nlm-thinking" which ultimately yields a film-truth (Rouch 1978, p. 7).
Furthermore, Rouch challenges anthropological tradition through not only his own
involvement in many of the filmed séquences and his direct participation in the lives
of his subjects, but also through the film content which often questions the very
relevance of the anthropological field. 3
Through Rouch's ethnographie films we are confronted with a myriad of
4 While fllming Tourou et bitti (1971), Rouch claims that the genji bi (black spirits) entered "the body of his
médium" which caused him to enter a "cine-trance" (Stoller, pp. 85-86).
In Les maîtres fous, Rouch shows natives from the Gold Coast mocking the British on Sundays in order
that they might sanely go about their colonial duties during the week and in Petit à petit (1969) Rouch films
Africans pretending to be anthropologists, showing them taking measurements of the heads of Europeans in
front of Musée de l'homme in Paris.
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problems which relate directly to intellectual discourse concerning the disciplines of
film and anthropology, but which, in more gênerai terms, point to a crisis in Western
epistemology, since the représentation and interprétation of the "other" has long been
based on knowledge which évidences itself through the internalization of truths and
the interment of fictions. Fiction, as de Certeau points out, cannot simply be dismissed
and put into its own "place" since, because of its "metaphoric" nature (unlike the
"univocal" discourse of science), fiction naturally "moves into the domain of the
other" (p. 202). De Certeau continues this logic stating that:
Knowledge is insecure when dealing with the problem of fiction; consequently,
its effort consists in analysis (of a sort) that reduces or translates the elusive
language of fiction into stable and easily combined éléments. From this point
of view, fiction violâtes one of the rules of scientificity. It is a witch whom
knowledge must labor to hold and to identify through its exorcizing. It no
longer bears the mark of the false, of the unreal, or of the artificial. It is only a
drifting meaning. It is the siren from whom the historian must défend himself,
like Ulysses tied to the mast (p. 202).
Fiction, a discourse which "informs the real" is posited against science, a discourse
which prétends to "speak the real" (de Certeau, p. 202); thus, fiction exists in a
constant state of agitation, fragmentation, reconstruction, and redéfinition in relation
to science. Consequently, de Certeau delineates historiography not to the realm of
pure fiction or science, but instead to a domain where science and fiction meet as a
field of "knowledge" whereby the "questions of time and tense regain central
importance" (p. 203).
Viewed in this way, one might say that anthropology is a discourse which
utilizes scientific methodology in order to "objectively" render explicit as many
productive, behavioral, and cognitive regularities as possible for a given society, and in
turn to suggest how thèse regularities might arise out of spécifie conditions, while it
simultaneously défends thèse truths by "exorcising" the orbiting fictions which
challenge its legitimacy. However, the crisis that anthropology, as well as other social
sciences, faces 8 is that within discourse, there exists a "given" which évidences every
product or resuit of scientific method as "fact" thereby presupposing the questions of
power and trust which, ipso facto, are also "given". Thus, through scientific practice,
truths are embraced, fictions are dismissed, and the questions of power and trust
remain elided in order to promote the illusion of transparent fidelity to "science".
Jean Rouch's films attempt to subvert traditional notions in the practices of
ethnographie cinéma, anthropology, and scientific discourse in gênerai, with (what I
believe to be) an underlying objective of questioning the authority or power inscribed
within Western epistemology. His use of film attempts to unveil the dissension which
6 See James Glifford's argument against traditional anthropological discourse concerning the voice of the
Other and the authority embedded in any such practice in Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century
Ethnography, Liter&ture, and Art (1988).
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divld.es: fact from fiction, documentary from narrative cinéma, the natural action
from the "prompted" or "provoked" re-action, and "non-intervention" from
participatory camera-eye. Rouen also strives to undermine thèse very same notions
in the domain of anthropology as he challenges not only the authentioity ofknowledge
extracted through the so-called "non-intervention" of the anthropologist, but also the
authority— the structures of power and knowledge— which anthropological discourse
enïbodies in representing the "other" through allochronism (a distancing of time), the
lack of coevalness in the "self '/"other" relationship. 7 Rouch endeavors in destroying
traditional anthropological notions of the "objective", the "natural", the "un-staged",
and the "non-interventive" as the scientific foundations which invoke knowledge of a
truth. Instead of accepting thèse truths, Rouch strives to shatter the panoptical,
ethnographie gaze by turning the caméras back onto the "self". In so doing, Rouch
imposes a similar, critical gaze on anthropological and documentary filmic discourse,
ultimately questioning the veracity of what we label and know to be "knowledge" of
both the "self" and the "other".
In this way, we cannot help but question "objective", scientific method and the
results it yields. We must examine the fictions embedded within truth, the fables
entangled within reality, by uprooting anthropology and pulling it from the arena of
"pure science" and by drawing it back into the domain where fact and fiction
communicate and where every morsel of "truth" lays bare, predisposed to
examination— even if it be post mortem. Since, as de Certeau contends, knowledge is
insecure with its counterpoising fictions, we must examine discourse which both
"informs the real" as well as "speak[s] the real" (de Certeau, p. 202) by acknowledging
the enigmas and instabilities that infest Western epistemology: that fiction does
indeed pervade the sphère of scientific discourse; that so-called objectivity in
anthropological studies, for example, is an ontological impossibility— for objectivity
cannot be achieved as easily as creating a controlled environment for spores to
germinate in biological experiments (and even then this is often under scrutiny); and
that the allochronic distancing, 8 and hence examination, of the "other" in
7 In his book, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Objeot, Fabian challenges the notions of
alterity and allochronism within anthropological discourse. Fabian contends that the narrative tactic
within anthropology distances the object of study through the séparation of narrative time— both the time
between the study and the narration as well as the time between the other and the self. Through the use of
synchronie sound, just to name one technical example, Rouch extirpâtes this objectifying distance as the
sound coincides with voices, music, and other Visual movements in his films. Synchronizing sound with the
image is a technique that was not often used in ethnographie film of the 1950's since voice overs were the
8 It is important to note hère that ethnographers hâve acknowledged the fact that coevalness is the only
possible approach to culture through which anything knowledge may be gained: "But when it cornes to
producing anthropological discourse in the forms of description, analysis, and theoretical discourse in the
forms of description, analysis, and theoretical conclusions, the same ethnographers will often forget or
disavow their expériences of coevalness with the people they studied. Worse, they will talk their
expériences away with ritualistic invocations of "participant observation" and the "ethnographie
présent" (Fabian, p. 33). Thus, the crisis in anthropology seems to resemble that of postmodernism:
postmodernism talks about the margins and altarity, yet does very little to actually address thèse issues
and furthermore, perpétuâtes the very discourse against which it argues.
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documentary film and anthropology should not be understood, much less embraeed,
as the officiai discursive practice which further séparâtes the knower from the
known, the "self" from the "other", and which simultaneously lends to the unearthing
of "truths" and to the légitimation of the structures of power through which
knowledge is attained. Instead, anthropological discourse (and, more
comprehensively, Western epistemology) should be subject to scrutiny, forced into a
state of perpétuai archaeology in order that anthropological discourse might
communicate, interpret, and even represent who the "self" and "other" are, if, in fact,
thèse two can be separated or defined at ail. However, this is an onerous task, even for
today, as it is still common to find anthropological queries which promise to be
"postmodern" and self-reflexive whilst idly ambling on the heels of scientific praxis.
Représentation ought to engage subjectivity through an ongoing process of dialogical
critique, taking into account not only the "unseen" facts and fictions, but also
acknowledging how the relations of power and domination inscribe themselves in
seemingly disinterested and "objective" accounts of the world.
Jean Rouch's films évidence a paradox inhérent in both documentary and
anthropological discourse: that the observational engagement of "objectivity", non-
intervention, "invisibility", and scientific methodology does not necessarily yield a
more valid truth about a culture or group of people than the participatory,
provocative, visible, and interventive stance taken by a filmmaker or ethnographer.
Through cinéma vérité, Rouch attempts to tear down the bricks and mortar which
epistemologically divide the "self from the "other", as he questions the validity of
allochronic discourse embodied within the tenets of ethnographie film and
anthropology. By challenging thèse discourses, Rouch ultimately rebuts the discipline
of anthropology, the suprême authority of knowledge and Western epistemology, and
the context of power through which knowledge and "truths" are derived.
Using the model of Jean Rouch's 1961 film, Chronique d'un été, I shall examine
the discourse of ethnography and documentary film uncovering the scientific veil
assumed by both disciplines, thus demonstrating the fictions which necessarily
émerge from scientific method and the possible "truths" revealed through fictional
methodology. Furthermore, I will évidence the current crisis in ethnographie and
documentary discourse whereby the "other" is "the object of information, never a
subject in communication" (Foucault, p. 200) and through which discourse
"sequesters" and "disindividualizes" knowledge and power, distancing the very
subjects it seeks to inform from the objects upon which knowledge is based. In this
way, current interprétation (and représentation) of the "other" is distanced from the
"self and ail examination allegedly takes place within the stérile environment of
science: the "other" is held up to light, examined, tested, proofed, returned to the pétri
dish, and conclusions about the spécimen are entered into the log. The information
extracted from the "other" is automatically assumed to be an absolute truth resulting
from scientific praxis, not a possible truth resulting from the interaction of the "self
and the "other". The problem with this scheme is that the exercise of scientific
methodology présupposes the dissolution of or disregard for the "self; yet, science
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cannot escape the "self since it is based upon episteme which is, in part, formed by the
"self. Therefore, the "self nécessitâtes the interprétation of the "other" whereby
there can be no understanding of the "self without the "other" and, likewise, no
understanding of the "other" without the "self. As the "self and the "other" are
inextricably woven into the fabric of expérience, there must exist a level outside of the
discourse of the gazer and gazée through which représentation can faithfully be
achieved and whereby the représentation and interprétation of either the "self" or the
"other" necessitate a mirror-like referentiality, posing any discourse within a realm
where the "self" and "other" must exist dialogically.
I shall examine the panoptical gaze administered by the "self" to the "other"
which is "architecturally" implicit within every observed moment and thus obliges the
object of spectacle (through scientific praxis) to engender the ontological and
epistemological status of "other". As the acquisition of knowledge takes place within
the context of power, the représentation of the "other" is implicated within discourse
and within the context of trust— a trust that relies explicitly on the "guarantee of the
real" (de Gerteau, p. 213) and the credibility of the représentation. Thus, the veracity
of any représentation of the "other" in this context would pose truth as being "real"
and the false as being "fiction". Yet, any interprétation and représentation of the
"other" would, in a sensé, présuppose a rupture in the membrane dividing "reality"
from "performance" whereby the observation of anything is automatically (and
architecturally) established within the realm of the theatrical, the staged. Ultimately,
I question whether or not there is any possibility of revealing a pure "truth" of the
"other"— whether it is possible to reveal "reality" by allochronically examining the
"other" without simultaneously examining the "self". Using Rouch's and Morin's
collaborative effort, Chronique d'un été, I shall demonstrate that the "/", the wall
which epistemologically divides the "self and the "other", must be torn down, that
any ethnographie or filmic pretense of revealing the "truth" must not présuppose a
pre-written, a pre-conceived, a pre-represented "truth", and that unearthing and
representing "truth", fumically and anthropologically, can only be a dialogical process.
Panopticism and Discourse
In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault discusses
Bentham's Panopticon and its potential for "automiz[ing] and disindivualiz[ing]
power" (p. 202) whereby visibility becomes a locus through which the inmates are
observed while the guardian remains invisible to the objects of surveillance:
[A]t the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is
pierced with wide Windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the
périphérie building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width
of the building; they hâve two Windows, one on the inside, corresponding to
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thé Windows of the tower;the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the
cell from one end to the other. Ail that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor
in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a
condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one
can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small
captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so
many small théâtres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and
constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that
make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it
reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions— to
enclose, to deprive of light and to hide— it préserves only the first and
éliminâtes the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture
better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap (p. 200).
Through the process of surveillance, the inmate is reduced to a subject of study, the
spécimen of examination, and is aware of the fact that he orb she is being observed. In
this way, the fact that someone is or not in the tower of observation is irrelevant as the
state of the prisoner is cemented within the fact that he or she is being watched. The
architectural structure of the Panopticon créâtes a théâtre for the spectator whereby
the walls encompassing the "balcony seat" are perpetually enmeshed with non-stop
action. The prisoners, the objects of study, are implicated within the structures of
power as their ontological status within the prison walls ensures that they are
contributing to the "study" whereby information about them is collected while the
prisoners are never certain from one moment to the next if they are actually being
Using the Panopticon as an analogy for Power, Foucault ascribes Power
relations to a similar ideological structure whereby power is disseminated, everyone
is implicated, and, most importantly, power remains "visible and unverifiable" (p.
201). In this way, every individual is synchronously the guard and the prisoner, each
person feeds into and takes from the structure of Power: "He who is subjected to a
field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of
power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the
power relation in which he simultaneously plays both rôles; he becomes the principle
of his own subjection" (pp. 202-203). Foucault demonstrates how the panoptical
structure allows for the extraction and discernment of knowledge, whereby in depth
observation, analysis, and retrieval of knowledge is possible within the "laboratory of
power" (p. 204): "[I]t gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men's
behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of
knowledge over ail the surfaces on which power is exercised" (p. 204).
As Foucault describes Bentham's panopticon as a "pure architectural and
optical System", the caméra eye in the context of documentary film fits this
description ail too perfectly, as hère Vertov explains the physics of kino-eye and its
relation to class and cinematic consciousness (and unconsciousness):
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Kino-eye is understood as "tliat which tlie eye doesn't see,"
as the microscope and télescope of time,
as the négative of time,
as the possibility of seeing without limits and distances,
as the remote control of movie caméras,
as X-ray eye,
as "life caught unawares," etc., etc....
The establishment of a Visual (kino-eye) and auditory (radio-ear) class bond
between the prolétariats of ail nations and lands on a platform of the
communist decoding of world relations.
The decoding of life as it is.
Influence of facts upon workers' consciousness.
Influence of facts, not acting, dance, or verse (pp. 41-66).
In cinéma, the director maintains the rôle of the guard, watching over the objects of
study, collecting information, recording every movement, gesture, and utterance. The
objects of "microscopic" and "x-ray" observation are thus inscribed within the
relations of power between the filmmaker and the caméra— their every breath and
muscular twitch is woven into the informational fabric which is framed within the
structures of power.
According to Vertov, the "decoding" of action through the médium of the
caméra catches life "unaware" through its lenses— every filmic object is then
implicated within the cinematic moment and the power of the filmmaker/guard
remains "visible" yet "unverifiable". However, the problem which arises from his
notion of the "unaware" poses serious empirical questions regarding Mno-pravda
which, according to Vertov, exists only when the "unaware" and the "factual" are
filmed as opposed to the "aware" and "acted". This "decoding of life as it is", a basic
ideological and technical standard for much documentary film production even today,
assumes that the relationship between the "self" and "other" is purely objective, non-
intrusive, and that the filmmaker catches life on film as accurately as if he or she had
been invisible, inaudible, to the objects of study. In other words, documentary
discourse assumes that the "invisibility" of the caméra eye présupposes an empirical
(and epistemological) breakdown of the "self'/"other" relationship— that the caméra
eye takes on the privileged focal point within the world of the "other" escaping the
reflection of the "self". This notion is extremely problematic since in any type of
"observation" the "self" and "other" are necessarily implicated and inscribed within
the configuration of power. Hence, the "self'/"other" relationship is empirically
présent in the context and in the moment of observation, study, and film— including
the so-called non-Action film. Thus, aware or unaware, "visibility is a trap" whereby
the acts of being observed and of observing, feeds into the relations upon which
movement is recorded, knowledge is extracted, théories are constructed, fictions are
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discarded, and "truth" is represented.
As the anthropological object of study, the "other" is often named and
represented as a "barbarian", "hunter-gatherer", a "violent people", etc.; hence, action
invades the realm of the "other". Allochronic discourse aids the ethnographer, the
filmmaker, the spectator, and the student in putting distance between him or herself,
between the two "distant" worlds, and between the fictions and logics which threaten
the epistemological and empirical construct of his or her "reality":
Sometimes— rarely— the Other is revealed as irreducible: not because of a
sudden scruple, but because common sensé rebels: a man does not hâve a
white skin, but a black one, another drinks pear juice, not Pernod. How can
one assimilate the Negro, the Russian? There is hère a figure for emergencies:
exoticism. The Other becomes a pure object, a spectacle, a clown. Relegated to
the confines of humanity, he no longer threatens the security of the home.
This figure is chiefiy petit-bourgeois. For, even if he is unable to expérience the
Other in himself, the bourgeois can at least imagine the place where he fits in:
this is what is known as liberalism, which is a sort of intellectual equilibrium
based on recognized places (Barthes, p. 152)
The observer takes the "easy way out" by assuming a false, but distant, panoptic rôle,
allowing for interprétation and représentation to fall within the thin walls of
"objective" discourse— the observer is seemingly omitted from the implications
enmeshed within the gaze and is exonerated of ail responsibility for représentation
and interprétation, as he or she acts in the name of "objectivity" and "science":
In my own expérience of collaborations between historians and computer
scientists, a reciprocal illusion makes each group assume that the other
discipline will guarantee what it otherwise lacks— a référence to the "real."
From the computer sciences, historians ask to be accredited by a scientific
power capable of providing certain "serious" quality to their discourse (de
Certeau, p. 213).
In this way, représentation of the "other" remains unquestioned since the insurance
policy protecting représentation (through allochronism) is science: the power
subsumed in the act of représentation is thus diffused and relegated not to the
ethnographer or filmmaker, but to the field of science where the methods and dogma
of représentation assume total responsibility for the represented "other". Thus, to
quote the opérations of power is to "bestow credibility on the représentation" (de
Certeau, p. 213).
Inasmuch as science lends légitimation to documentary and ethnographie
discourse, it also engraves the représentation of the "other" within the domain of the
real and the arena of truth. Intellectual discourse strives to differentiate the théâtre
of scientifically based observation and représentation from the théâtre of spectacle,
stage lights, and actors using the principle that invisibility yields reality and that
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visibility reaps fiction. Derrida, however, discounts this notion in L'écriture et la
différence in discusses Artaud's rôle in the théâtre: "Artaud s'est tenu au plus proche
de la limite: le possibilité et l'impossibilité du théâtre pur. Le présence, pour être
présence et présence à soi, a toujours déjà commencé à se représenter, a toujours déjà
été entamée" 9 (p. 366). In this way, the théâtre is a stage for performance where life
and fiction are indistinguishable; hence, the act of observation, the spectatorship of
fictional théâtre or of "reality" is implicit within the construct of power regardless of
its "true" nature. 10
In A Fragment on Government, Bentham demonstrates that in eighteenth
century law, fictions between people and government existed as primary grounds for
the construction of légal contracts. Moreover, Bentham contends that "the season of
Fiction is now over: "insomuch, that what formerly might hâve been tolerated and
countenanced under that name, would, if now attempted to be set on foot, be censured
and stigmatized under the harsher appellations of encroachment or imposture" (p.
53). Bentham furthers his argument by delineating the rôle of the Author as the
subject who has "the Suprême Power of making laws" (p. 86)— the Author is therefore
empowered to create, reshape, and enforce thèse laws which, according to Bentham,
"intitle" discourse (pp. 86-87). Discourse thus becomes a tool for the author, artist,
and anthropologist by which fictions are resisted and truths are accepted— the
dichotomy between fiction and truth is further reinforced in both scientific and
epistemological Law. In this way, truth and power maintain a reciprocally
advantageous and symbiotically legitimating relationship with one another: "'Truth' is
to be understood as a System of ordered procédures for the production, régulation,
distribution, circulation and opération of statements. 'Truth' is linked in a circular
relation with Systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power
which it induces and which extend it" (Foucault 1980, p. 133). Discourse is positioned
within the complex matrix of 'Truth' and power— it is located at the very crosshare
where 'Truth' and power lend légitimation to one another. By embedding its roots
within their structures, discourse, therefore, maintains its authority and direct link to
Knowledge through the reciprocal légitimation of 'Truth'/power.
9 Translation: "Artaud remained closest to the lim.it: the possibility and the impossibility ofpure théâtre.
Présence— being pure présence and présence ofself—always began to represent itself, always was already
10 In Le téâtre et son double, Artaud asserts that one single notion of théâtre is impossible to isolate
because the act of observing théâtre is an ongoing dialogical process whereby oruelty serves as the common
denominator between "fiction" and "reality": "Et dans la mesure où le téâtre se borne à nous faire pénétrer
dans l'intimité de quelques fantoches, et où il transforme le public en voyeur, on comprend que l'élite s'en
détourne et que le gros de la foule aille chercher au cinéma, au music-hall ou au cirque, des satisfactions
violentes, et dont la teneur ne le déçoit pas. ..Sans un élément de cruauté à base de tout spectacle, le téâtre
n'est pas possible. Dans l'état de dégénérescence où nous sommes, c'est par la peau qu'on fera rentrer la
métaphysique dans les esprits" (pp. 131-153). (Translation: "And in as much as théâtre contents itself with
making us penetrate the depths ofsome puppets, and where it transforms the public into the "voyeur", one
can understand that the élite turns aside from this and that the bulk ofthe crowd goes in search of cinéma,
to the music hall or to the circus—from the violent pleasures, and for whom the content does not
deceive...Without an élément ofcrualty beneath the spectacle, théâtre is not possible. In the state of
degeneration where we are now, it is by the skin that we might make return the metaphysics ofthe spirifes").
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The plurality of fictions which perpetually traject across the field of "reality"
are inevitably met, and their paths stopped, by the "univocal" reason of science, the
anchor of "truth"— the constant interaction between fiction and the "real" irrevocably
bows to science for légitimation and authorial power. De Certeau contends that the
ontological posture of fiction and reality is contingent upon the discourse of science:
At the level of analytic procédures (the examination and comparison of
documents), as at the level of interprétations (the products of the
historiographical opération), the technical discourse capable of determining
the errors characteristic of fiction has corne to be authorized to speak in the
name of the "real." By distinguishing between the two discourses— the one
scientific, the other dictive— according to its own criteria, historiography
crédits itself with having a spécial relationship to the "real" because its
contrary is posited as "false" (p. 201).
Hère, we witness a vacuum within intellectual discourse of the "other": the "real"
takes on both a literal and epistemological meaning only within the relationship that
discourse shares with science. Any discourse clinging to science (and this would
mean most discourse) would necessarily hâve the spécial characteristic of being able
to "distinguish" the territory of "truth" from that of fiction. Questioning the validity of
discourse would essentially threaten the superiority that "truth" holds over fiction
and knowledge and would threaten the structures of power which both maintain and
receive légitimation from discourse itself. Therefore, challenging discourse would
mean that not only knowledge, but also the "truths" and structures of power
legitimating discourse, would be threatened— knowledge would exist in a constant
state of realignment, fragmentation, and metamorphosis and, ultimately, the
structures of power would be perpetually threatened.
Yet, merely positing knowledge within the sphère where truth and fiction
interact would not neoessarily subordinate discourse, placing it in a position of being
challenged, queried, or opposed since ail "questions" would simply be deferred to the
suprême défense counselor: Science. Epistemological praxis (especially within the
domain of the social sciences) must take into account that science serves as a
foundation for investigation and often for the interprétation of facts; however, on the
basis of thèse facts or logics, science can no longer serve to distinguish "truth" from
[A]ssume that the expression "psychology", "history of science",
"anthropology" refer to certain domains of facts and regularities (of nature, of
perception, of the human mind, of society). Then the assertion is not ciear as
there is not a single subject— LOGIC— that underlies ail thèse domains...
Moreover, there is not a single science, or other form of life that is useful,
progressive as well as in agreement with logical demands. Every science
contains théories which are inconsistent both with facts and with other
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théories and which reveal contradictions when analyzed in détail. Only a
dogmatic belief in the principles of an allegedly uniform discipline "Logic" will
make us disregard this situation. And the objection that logical principles and
principles of, say, arithmetic differ from empirical principles by not being
accessible to the method of conjecture and réfutations (or, for that matter, any
other "empirical" method) has been defused by more récent research in this
field 11 (Feyerabend, pp. 204-205).
Due to the empirical nature of observation and research enmeshed within the social
sciences, a purely scientific analysis of a spécifie situation, time, or group of people
would actually diminish, if not totally discount, the empirical reality revealed at a
spécifie moment. What is essential to understand hère is that science lends to one
kind of interprétation— a heavily ethnocentric interprétation based on Western
science. The utter consumption of empirical understanding subordinates and
obfuscates subjectivity —the particularityof space and time that existed before
discursive interprétation and représentation. Thus, reality as demonstrated through
science maintains a spécial position within the structures of power since the "symbolic
power to impose the principles of the construction of reality... is a major dimension of
political power" (Bordieu, p. 165).
Within the théâtre of anthropological discourse, the act of observation
interpolâtes an empirical moment and further diffuses the spectacle amidst
epistemological practice and discourse. The objects of study become actors for the
anthropologist and their every movement and utterance is stripped bare of ail
empirical meaning. Instead, the objects of investigation are given the epistemological
paraphernalia through which anthropological praxis opérâtes: costumes, dialogue,
rôles, and settings. The lights are turned on, the curtain is raised, and the action
commences as the actors fulfl.il their pre-written, pre-scripted rôles by merely
existing, moving their lips, gathering roots, and going into drug induced trances. The
ticket holders fold their programs, pull out their opéra glasses, listen, and watch.
Empirical reality is immediately subtitled by the laws of scientific discourse which
yield an epistemological reality. In "The Author as Producer," Benjamin contends that
Brecht utilizes epic théâtre as a means of conjuring up the "real" since the
interruption of action inhérent in epic théâtre "counteracts an illusion in the
audience" (p. 235):
For such illusion is a hindrance to a theater that proposes to make use of
éléments of reality in expérimental rearrangements. But it is at the end, not
the begmnmg, of the experiment that the situation appears— a situation that,
in this or that form, is always ours. It is not brought home to the spectator but
distanced from him. He recognizes it as the real situation, not with
satisfaction, as in the theater of naturalism, but with astonishment. Epic
11 Feyerband refers to the research of Imre Lakatos, "Proofs and Réfutation", British Journal for the
Philosophy of science, 196S/63.
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theater, therefore, does not reproduce situations; rather it discovers them (p.
In this way, anthropology could be said not to represent reality, but to discover one
type of reality— reality as seen through the spectacles of Western epistemology.
Reality is epistemologically underwritten by allochronism— the performers and the
spectators are "distanced" by the panoptical discourse, the architecture of the
observational tower and the surrounding cells. Everyone is implicated within the
structures of power and etched into the epistemological headstone which reads: "Self/
The Ethnographie Gaze and the Kino-Eye
Ethnographie studies rely on the fact that ail acquisition of knowledge takes
place in the context of power. This knowledge is thought to be a représentation of the
reality of the "other" conceived outside of ethnocentric ideals— a "pure", yet
scientifically legitimated, représentation of the "other". Yet, sortie anthropologists
hâve cast doubts on the représentation of the "other" that anthropological discourse
yields, speculating and challenging the modes of perception and représentation
embedded within anthropological praxis. 18 Years before the establishment of the
discipline of anthropology, however, Bentham seems offer a solution to the crisis in
anthropological représentation today: "[Bentham] wished to master reality by
reshaping, and by rendering visible, the modes of its fictional construction" (Bender,
p. 36). For anthropology, this would mean interpreting reality neither through the
"other", nor through the "self", but through a dialogical praxis which bends and
reflects back and forth between the mirror of the "self and the image of the "other",
creating an awareness, a truth, of where knowledge is mined, interpreted, and hence,
According to Pabian: "Anthropology emerged and established itself as an
allochronic discourse; it is a science of other men in another Time. It is a discourse
whose réfèrent has been removed from the présent of the speaking/writing
subject" (p. 143). He demonstrates how the temporal distancing between the subject
and object of anthropology are invoked to support the argument that the temporal
conditions of fieldwork and those "expressed in writing (and teaching) usually
contradict each other... that the discourse that prétends to interpret, analyze, and
communicate ethnographie knowledge to the researcher's society is pronounced from
12 Thèse critioisms oan be found in the works of: J. Clifford (1988), J. Clifford and G.E. Marcus (1986), S.
Tyler (1988), G.E. Marcus and M. Fischer (1985), J. Pabian (1983), and J. Rouch (who is the subject of my
investigations in this essay). P. Stoller (1989) claims to differ from the above anthropologists in that unlike
they who want to "repudiate" science, he wants to "reduce" science to a "non-reifled tool which helps to
unravel the tangled cultural mysteries of other societies" (p. 9). Yet Stoller undermines this idea in that
throughout A Tasfce of Ethnographie Things he defers traditional anthropological praxis to an
"anthropology of the sensés".
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a "distance", that is, from a position whieh dénies coevalness to the object of
inquiry" (p. 71). This distancing of the subject and object of anthropological study on
both an empirical and epistemological level has been the center of study for Clifford
who examines allochronism in anthropological fieldwork contending that
ethnography should not be relegated to the "expérience and interprétation" of a
"circumscribed 'other'", but must be conceived in ternis of "expérience and
interprétation... involving at least two, and usually more, conscious, politically
significant subjects" (p. 41).
In examining the fieldwork of Griaule, Clifford demonstrates how
anthropological praxis prescribes the methods of observation of the "other" by means
of mapping out stratégie points of observation where specialists (anthropologists) are
stationed in order to observe and gather and record information about the objects of
study. Referring to this process as a "war of gazes", Clifford states: "The theatrical tug
of war actually ends with an arrangement entirely to the advantage of the outsiders,
who are able to complète their excavation, remove numerous relies, and establish
ground rules for later intensive ethnography" (p. 70). Yet, Clifford contends that
Griaule is entirely conscious of the "disruptive power" that his présence and gaze
embodies: "Investigation, looking into something, is never neutral" (p. 70). Just as
Benjamin contends that Brechtian théâtre "distances" reality from the spectator,
Clifford argues that Griaule himself was "distanced" from the reality of culture:
"...Griaule saw culture itself, like personality, as a performance or a spectacle" (p. 77).
In his ethnographie films, Jean Rouch, one of Griaule's later colleagues, plays
with the notion of théâtre and performance through his use of cinéma vérité, breaking
every Rule of anthropological and documentary practice by using methods and
techniques that were then— and still are— generally considered "taboo". Some of thèse
unorthodox ethnographie and filmic praotices include Rouch's: provoking action,
staging scènes, direct intervention (and often involvement) within séquences,
complète disregard for the "invisibility" of the anthropologist-filmmaker, and even his
collaboration with the objects of study, allowing them to be both objects and subjects
of investigation. The film that best demonstrates Rouch's criticism of anthropological
discourse is Chronique d'un été. This work is doubly paradigmatic and provoking
since Rouch, in collaboration with French sociologist Edgar Morin, not only strives to
discrédit the notion of anthropological and documentary "objectivLty" and the
knowledge that is revealed through both filmic and ethnographie
"unconventionalities", but also, instead of filming a group of Sonhay performing
aneient rites in West Africa, Rouch literally turns the camera-eye, the ethnographie
gaze, back onto itself by filming a group of individuals in Paris, France, during the
Summer of i960. 13
13 Rouch. states: "[Chronique d'un été] is not, striotly speaking, as sociological film. Sociologioal film
researches society. It Is an ethnological film in the strong sensé of the term: it studies mankind" (p. 6). Yet,
the faot that Rouch made an ethnographie film about "reed iife" in Paris seems problematic to many
anthropologists and filmmakers since ethnographie film dénotes an investigation into the Other, not the
Self and certainly not the Self and Other. In his book A History of Ethnographie Film, Heider discusses the
work of Jean Rouch beginning with Chronique d'un été. Then he writes: "Rouch himself made some dozen
other more obviously ethnographie films" (Emphasis mine, p. 40). He follows this comment with
Visual Sociology, 1995
In Chronique d'un été , Rouen and Morin question epistemological praxis, our
very knowledge of the "other" and the "self", by filmieally, ethnographically, and
culturally questioning the notion of truth:
[T]his terni cinéma-vérité is daring, pretentious; of course there is a profound
truth in works of fiction as well as in myths. At the end of the film the
difficulties of truth which had not been a problem in the beginning became
apparent to me. In other words, I thought that we would start from a basis of
truth and that an even greater truth would develop. Now I realize that if we
achieved anything, it was to présent the problem of the truth. We wanted to
get away from comedy, from spectacles, to enter into direct contact with life.
But life itself is also a comedy, a spectacle. Better (or worse) yet: each person
can only express himself through a mask, and the mask, as in Greek tragedy,
both disguises and reveals, becomes the speaker. In the course of the dialogues
each one was able to be more real than in daily life but at the same time more
Applying the concept of cinéma vérité, Rouch and Morin "unmask" the truths
embodied within the fictional moments as well as the untruths which haunt the so-
called "honest" moments. Rouch and Morin challenge knowledge, holding a mirror up
to the panoptical gaze of Western epistemology, presenting a différent type of reality
by forcing the spectator to question that which is accepted (ipso facto) as true and
also that which is accepted as fiction. More concretely, Rouch and Morin dispute
"truth" by questioning discursive methodology and praxis within the disciplines of
anthropology and non-fiction film. I shall examine Chronique d'un été in relation to
the empirical and epistemological concepts, practices, and "rules" that thèse
researchers query through their use (although to some, this might be called abuse) of
"revolutionary" filmmaking and ethnographie techniques which ultimately attempt to
break down the "/" which divides the "self" and "other"— the epistemological barrier
which séparâtes the subject and the object of study. Rouch and Morin évidence the
impossibility of polarizing the "self and "other", for in their film everyone, including
Rouch and Morin, is both subject and object.
Visibility and invisibility are key tools utilized within Chronique that serve to
break with the traditional ethnographie and documentary conceptions of subject and
object. The film opens with Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch, and Marceline sitting around a
dining room table discussing the fact that they are being filmed and wondering
whether or not they "will be able to talk absolutely normally." 14 They briefly discuss
Marceline's memory of Auschwitz and her déportation and then the conversation
IB As a matter of fact, Angélo lost his job due to his involvement in the film, Chronique. Furthermore,
Rouch, feeling guilty because of this, helped Angélo get several jobs after this.
Visual Sociology, 1995
turns to Marceline discussing what she does at home, what her attitude is towards
men in gênerai, how she feels about her past lovers, and how she feels about her life.
Rouch and Morin periodically pose questions and make comments to Marceline, yet
she does most of the talking. The caméra takes a few close-ups of Marceline and
Rouch, but primarily it remains still, focused on ail three sitting around the table and
talking. Rouch's and Morin's présence throughout the film is pervasive— even as
Marceline walks alone in the street, we see a shot of her back, yet we hear the voice-
over of Rouch and Marceline:
MARCELINE: Listen, there are times when I go out in the street in the
morning...when I hâve things to do. ..but there is no guarantee I'm going to
do them. I mean I never know what I'il be doing from one day to the next.
It's like I live thinking that I don't know what tomorrow will bring...and
then, for me, adventure is always just around the corner.
ROUCH: And if we asked you to go into the street and ask people the question
"Are you happy?", would you go?
Marceline continues to walk down the street, her back to the caméra,
following Rouch 's off-screen question.
Even in this scène, the fllm's flrst moment when neither Rouch nor Morin are on
screen, Rouch nonetheless "appears"— his voice, his dialogue with Marceline, subverts
the allochronic gaze. Perhaps Rouch's and Morin's "object-ivity" can best be "seen" in
the nlm's last séquence: alone, Rouch and Morin pace back and forth in Musée de
l'homme in Paris as they discuss their work on the film. The visibility of the
filmmakers permeates and dissolves any possibility of their retaining the position of
subject within the film; for even when Rouch and Morin are not on caméra, the
knowledge that they could enter the frame at any moment disintegrates any subject-
ive/object-ive moment that may otherwise superficially appear.
In a later scène, Marceline talks to a garage mechanic and his wife.
Throughout much of this scène, Marceline is absent and at times she is barely in the
frame— only her shoulder appears. Marceline's "invisibility" posits her in the rôle of
the subject, the interviewer, who remains outside of the séquence, the action, and the
film narrative. Close-ups of the mechanic, his wife, and a stranger remind the viewer
of the distance which seems purposefully administered. There is an even stranger
Paradox embedded within the film: the manner in which invisibility actuates visibility.
This is best demonstrated in the scène when Marceline, in response to Rouch's
proposition, goes around Paris interviewing Parisians by asking them: "Êtes-vous
content?" Although we sometimes see Marceline approaching the passersby, she is
nevertheless inscribe within the rôle of interviewer and once the question is posed,
the caméra focuses on the person as they answer or as they say, "What the fuck do you
Visual Sociology, 1995
care?" As one of the twelve major figures in the film, Marceline is both the object and
subject of study. Wliile lier visibility (obviously) lends to her "object-ification", her
invisibility empowers her own "subject-ification".
The "self'/"other" dichotomy is further destroyed through the tactics which
Rouch and Morin use in planning and structuring the film: not only do Morin and
Rouch plot the film, but also the subjects/objects of study are often directly involved in
the production and planning of many of the filmed séquences. As mentioned above,
Marceline agrées to walk around the streets of Paris interviewing people— she. Yet,
throughout the film one is constantly aware of the conspiracy between the filmmakers
and the subjects/objects of study in constructing the film. For example, in the
séquences when Rouch films Angélo going to work, entering the Renault factory gâtes,
and even when Angélo is hard at work, we cannot help being aware of the involvement
and commitment that Angélo lends to the film. 15 In order for Rouch to film Angélo at
the Renault factory, Angélo had to get permission from his supervLsor and then the
head of the plant (Morin). However, the strongest example of the involvement that
everyone has in the film is the second to last scène in the film, when the participants
are no longer "on film" but are watching, via montage, the very same film that we are
watching: Chronique d'un été :
We hear for a moment more the song of the Milly picniokers, as the beam of a
projeotor lamp appears on the soreen, shining across the room plunged in
obscurity. Then the song ends, the beam goes out, light returns to the room
revealing the characters of Chronique d'un été, who hâve just seen the
projection of certain séquences of their film, alongside Edgar Morin and Jean
Rouch. Close-ups of différent people as they respond.
In this segment the film's participants actively engage in conversations (and disputes)
about what they saw and, more importantly, what they thought about the film as an
intégral représentation of their lives at a spécifie time and place. Morin's and Rouch's
comments further aid in stripping down the "self '/"other" dimension as they too voice
their opinions about the study and even more gênerai, philosophical issues: "MORIN:
Maxie's suggestions sounded monstrous to me, and really, for, hers are reactions
which are against the émergence of truth in the world, in social life, in people's lives or
in life among people." We see hère how the filmmakers abet their own "object-
ification" by letting go of absolute and total authorial power, while synchronically the
other participants engage in the créative and communal filmmaking process, thus
realizing their own "subjet-ification" through artistic empowerment.
One of the first films made with synchronous sound equipment, Chronique
presented new possibilities for cinematic technique since it allowed filmmakers to
capture a new kind of reality on film. Technologically, Rouch exploits the "self '/"other"
paradigm: he disséminâtes the film technology to the other participants, implicating
16 In the English version of the transcript, edited by S. Feld, the "stage" notes emphasize the présence of film
equipment in the possession of Marceline, et. al. and the absence of film equipment by a member of the film
Visual Sociology, 1995
them within the film and its production through the extensive network of
microphones and tape recorders. 19 In the scène when Marceline is interviewing
Parisians, she is carrying a satchel which contains the tape recorder from which the
microphone extends. She holds the microphone out to the people walking by as she
repeats her question: "Êtes-vous content?". In a later shot, Régis, carrying a tape
recorder, meets Jean-Marc after his exams. Even though no sound is recorded, we are
constantly reminded of the fact that the participants are technically active in the films
production. Antithetically, there is a moment in the film, during the conversation
about the Algerian "problem", when Viguier, a cameraman, is shown in a close-up
without any film equipment. In a later scène, during a discussion about the Algerian
situation, Rophe, a sound recordist, takes part in the dialogue, but also without his
equipment. Thèse two moments exhibit the irony embodied within the film's technical
production: the alleged objects of study play a major rôle in the technological
production of the film while the officiai film technicians, Viguier and Rophe, when
filmed, do not possess any of the technology.
The film opens with various scènes of Paris, from its center to its smokestack-
filled industrial sectors. The day breaks, workers are filmed ascending from the métro
stations, and the titles begin. Off-screen the voice of Jean Rouch is heard: "This film
was not played by actors, but lived by men and women who hâve given a few moments
of their lives to a new experiment in cinéma-vérité." Yet, while one views this film,
there are several moments when one wonders if what is revealed is really a "natural"
action, an unprovoked reaction, a truthful comment or answer, etc. Moreover, before
the film is over, the viewer's suspicions are confirmed by the participants of the film
who also question the motives, or rather the authenticity of action and dialogue
disclosed in much of the footage. In the séquence when the film's participants watch
the film from the screening room, one of the major points of contention that arises
from the various discussions is that of "truth" as it pertains to what the camera-eye
captures and what the various participants did "naturally" or perhaps "acted":
ROUCH: You've just seen yourselves on the screen.. .Edgar and I would like to
know your opinions.. . Véro, do you like what you saw?
VERONIQUE: Oh, well, it's not as good as Chaplin, but you know...
MORIN: So, what's your impression, in the end?
VERONIQUE: I don't know...explain it to me!
MORIN: There's nothing to explain. Some people say it's not true, others say
VERONIQUE: Say what's not true? I mean, you can't lie in front of a caméra....
JACQUES: You say there's empathy between Angélo and Landry, that's
The topics of conversation were induced by Rouch and Morin.
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obvious: it's that ail tliat isn't natural, it's not natural and it's artiflcial,
ANGELO: I don't agrée, because when there was the scène wlth Landry, I didn't
know a thing about him. And then it turned out that when I talked wlth
him, I didn't see the caméras anymore. I didn't see them anymore, the
caméras. It was only the problem that concerned me....
MARILOU: It seems to me that in the end, to hâve a tiny spark of truth the
character usually has to be...I mean, it's not a rule...alone and on the verge
of a nervous breakdown...
JEAN-PIERRE: If the séquence of Marceline is much more perfect than the
others...you say that is truer than truth.. .it's because she is acting...
In an act of closure, Rouch ends the film gathering everyone to discuss their reactions
to one version of Chronique. Ironically, the major topic of discussion was about the
"truth" or "fiction" embedded within certain parts of the film. Véronique claims that
one cannot lie before the caméra, Jacques believes that Angélo's encounter with
Landry was "artiflcial", and Jean-Pierre believes that Marceline's monologue about
her father's death in a Nazi camp is "acted". In attempting to make cinéma-vérité,
Rouch shows the potential dissonance embodied in his own film— the fact that many
séquences would corne over to the audience as acted, staged, or artiflcial. Rouch did,
in fact, stage many scènes, prompt individuals with questions, and of course, was
responsible for the final product through his ultimate control of the cinematography,
caméra position, and editing. This brings us back to the définition of cinéma-vérité
from Barnouw who states that it suggests that "artiflcial circumstances could bring
hidden truth to the surface" (p. 255). Viewed in this way, Chronique is the incarnate
product, the quintessential spécimen, of cinéma-vérité in the sensé that if Rouch and
Morin can make just one person question the "truth" of what they see in their film,
then they hâve accomplished their task. Therefore, the cross-examination of fact and
fiction, truth and fallacy, throughout this film further deconstructs the dichotomy of
"self and "other", for the unquestioned acceptance of any truth relies heavily— if not
completely— on the panoptical gaze and the "selfs" somnambulant and complacent
belief of "truths" presented about the "other".
The breakdown of the "self and "other" is perhaps best demonstrated through
the film's context— the topics of discussion which are chosen to be fllmed. Rouch and
Morin carefully choose Parisian students (Jean-Marc, Nadine, and Régis), a factory
worker (Angélo), an Italian immigrant (Marilou), a Jewish concentration camp
survivor (Marceline), and two Africans (Raymond and Landry) to be participants in
the film. Given the heterogeneity of culture, économie status, and educational
expérience, Rouch and Morin explore the interaction of their participants in the
context of discussions about the Algerian question, racism, and anti-Semitism:
MORIN: You don't give a damn about this issue, about the war in Algeria, do
Visual Sociology, 1995
JEAN-MARC: No, we do give a damn....
CELINE: If only tlie majority of the French would sliow tlieir opposition... .would
sliow it publicly.
ROPHE (sound recordist): But to what end?
CELINE: ...to put an end to this absurd war.
REGIS: This war has been going on for six years, that's the first thing to be
said, and people are always forgetting it...Saying that we're installed in a
sort of mutual habit.. .a sort of résignation to a state of fact. In fact there
are crimes going on out there that are not by mistake...they're facts and
most people refuse to see them.
And then in dialogue between Marceline and Rouch:
MARCELINE: Personally I would never marry a black.
NADINE: For the children?
MARCELINE: No, not at ail, absolutely not.. .not at ail
MARCELINE: Well...why..Because for me it has nothing to do with...I'm not a
racist. I understand perfectly that one can love a black....
And then in référence to Marceline's tatoo:
ROUCH: We're going to ask Landry a question... Landry, hâve you noticed that
Marceline has a number on her arm?
ROUCH: What is it, do you think?
LANDRY: No, I...have no idea...
ROUCH: No idea...Okay, and you, Raymond. ..what do you think?
RAYMOND: Well, I don't know exactly.J know that there are sailors who
usually hâve numbers on their arms...and since she's not in the Navy...
ROUCH: Why? so, what is it that... Why? do you know more or less what it
RAYMOND: Maybe, yeah...
REGIS: But why a number, anyway?...
ROUCH: Why a number?
MARCELINE: I could hâve put a heart?
JEAN-PIERRE: It could be her téléphone number...
MARCELINE: I could hâve put a heart.
RAYMOND: That couldn't be a téléphone number because it's too long...
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Through thèse dialogues we see various tactics plotted out by Morin and Rouen 17 : to
purposefully dichotomize cultures in order to reveal commonalities between the two
polarized worlds, to demonstrate how a person from one culture interprets and
relates to the "other"— and situations spécifie to the "other"— in ternis of the "truths"
embedded within their own culture and to demonstrate the truths which ean —and do
—émerge from the dialogical interaction of the "self and "other". Furthermore,
choosing conversation topics like race, Algeria 1960, and anti-Semitism allows for a
broader ethnographie interprétation of both the Europeans and Africans by both
Europeans and Africans. That is to say that instead of posing questions like "How do
you go about hunting giraffes?" or "Could you show us your shamanistic rituals?"
which hâve their answers, their truths, already inscribed within the questions asked
(especially when posed to one spécifie group of people), Rouch and Morin hypothesize
spécifie situations which hold international and mtereultural relevancy, causing (or
perhaps forcing) the participants to interact and to dérive their own, individual
"truths" based on the given situations. Ultimately, this process allows everyone— the
participants, the ethnographer, and the viewer— to tear down the epistemological
shroud which had previously distanced and polarized their world from the world of
(that which they knew as) the "other".
In questioning the "truths" emerging from ethnography and documentary film,
Rouch and Morin évidence the problems of discourse, method, and practice in thèse
fields as well as the enigmas regarding "fiction" and "truth" embodied in Western
epistemology. By breaking ethnographie and filmic "laws" and using their brand of
ethnography and cinéma, Rouch and Morin shatter the epistemological gaze, the "/",
which divides the "self" and the "other". In tearing down this barrier, the
ethnographer-filmmaker and the film's participants are displaced from the age-old
rôles of "self" and "other" and thus inscribed as both the "self" and the "other", the
subject and the object. Through the synchronous "object-ification" and "subject-
ification" of the ethnographer and the persons to be "studied", we are forced to
examine knowledge, the structures of power, which systematically weed out the
"fictions" and digest the "truths". For Rouch and Morin, "truth" can only be achieved
through the dialogical interaction of: the ethnographer-filmmaker with the "objects"
of study (which thereby renders both the ethnographer-filmmaker and the "objects" of
investigation the subject/object) and the contextual discordance between that which
appears to be "true" or "natural" with that which seems to be "false" or "acted".
Ultimately, Chronique d'un été demonstrates that "truth" is posited as a dialogical
process, not a monological end.
Bssentially, what contributes to the success of Chronique is that it
demonstrates an alternative to allochronism— an dialogic alternative that is, in fact,
immune from the pitfalls of allochronic discourse. Due to its privileged relation to
power and Knowledge, allochronic discourse needs to maintain the status quo, it must
sustain the monolith of "truth" by positing ail "legitimate" information as a static or an
absolute truth. Were it to alter its discursive allusion to "truth" in the slightest,
Visual Sociology, 1995
allochronism would compromise its own efforts and thus contribute to its own démise.
On the other hand, Chronique demonstrates the attempt to breakdown the monolithic
structure of "truth", whereby the subjects/objects of study communally take part in
the film and everyone involved — including the film audience— has equal access to
interprétation and/or représentation. In this way, everyone involved with the film
can indirectly address the structures of power upon which knowledge is based. The
crucial différence between thèse two types of discourse is that Chronique does not
offer "truth" as an end, but demonstrates truth as a possible understanding, a
représentation of momentary interaction between the "self and the "other". Thus,
because Chronique neither purports to hâve access to autocratie Knowledge through
epistemological praxis nor prétends to reveal absolute truths, it does not need to
défend or answer to the Suprême Power/Knowledge construct.
Chronique d'un été essentially subverts the authority of Power/Knowledge
through the dialogical methods of ethnographie filmmaking embodied within its every
frame— Rouch and Morin demonstrate that dialogical method poses a perpétuai threat
to discourse which is deeply rooted within Power/Knowledge. In other words, by
questioning Knowledge, Rouch's and Morin's spécimen of dialogical discourse
subordinates Power/Knowledge, placing Power/Knowledge in an interminable process
of décomposition, shifting, restructuring.... Rouch and Morin proffer a radical
alternative to the standard archétype of Power/Knowledge which exists solely to
crank out théories, paradigms, and solutions which further strengthen the Power/
Knowledge structure from which thèse théories were born— an archétype of Power/
Knowledge which exists in a permanent state of tautological reason. Rouch and Morin
turn the Old Order on its head, offering dialogic discourse as a radically new modus
operandi of knowledge which serves to critieize and undermine not only the
traditional institutions of Power/Knowledge but also to understand knowledge as:
that which is temporal and relative, that which allows for a plurality of voices— even if
they be conflicting, and that which cannot successfully exist without posing a threat
to itself, ultimately contributing to its own death. This brand of dialogic discourse,
therefore, is the danger, the very threat of epistemological détérioration, embodied
within the act of questioning Power/Knowledge— it is the risk that we are not always
Chronique forces us to re-examine anthropological and documentary
discourse— if not also to challenge epistemology and the practices it institutes. Since
the acquisition of knowledge takes place in the context of power, everyone is
implicated within the institutions that constitute and contribute to Knowledge.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves if what we know to be "truths" about the "other" is
truly an honest interprétation and représentation formed in part through scientific
discourse or whether we are also actors working from the script of Western
epistemology which is inscribed with the theorems, proofs, and "truths"— a script that
is written, edited, and acted out even before we step onto the stage. Our
understanding of the "other" and more so, our drive to understand the "other", seems
to présuppose that we understand the "self. Therefore, the dialogic interaction of the
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"self and "other" would somehow threaten this firmly planted, this deeply entombed
Knowledge. Perhaps Zizek gives us the best example of how through discourse we
"see", interpret, and represent the "other":
Let us take Hitchcock's Rear Window : the wlndow through which James
Stewart, disabled and conflned to a wheelchair, gazes continually is clearly a
fantasy-wlndow— his désire is fascinated by what he can see through the
window. And the problem of the unfortunate Grâce Kelly is that by proposing
to him she acts as an obstacle, a stain disturbing his view through the window,
instead of fascinating him with her beauty. How does she succeed, finally, in
becoming worthy of his désire? By literally entering the frame of his fantasy;
by crossing the courtyard and appearing "on the other side" where he can see
her through the window. When Stewart sees her in the murderer's apartment
his gaze is immediately fascinated, greedy, desirous of her: she has found her
place in his fantasy-space (p. 119).
In this same way, anthropological discourse, sets up a panoptical gaze, looking at,
admiring, investigating, and desiring the "other"— viewing the "other" through the
"fantasy- window". Any encroachment on this gaze would then threaten our discourse,
and hence, the structures of power which legitimate the knowledge acquired,
absorbed, and memorized. Through epistemological praxis, not only hâve we
constructed the window and maintained the gaze, but we hâve even created the
situation, the apartment, the murderer, and the woman. Like James Stewart, we too
hâve realized our fantasy.
Julian Vigo is a ûlmmaker and a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the City University
ofNew York Oraduate Center.
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